Derek McCleary never played soccer beyond his backyard when he was growing up in Fields Corner. But now he helps coach and organize the Boston Victory Soccer Academy, a Quincy-based club that is affiliated with a semi-professional team.
McCleary said that there were few soccer opportunities in Dorchester when he was younger, so he mostly played in his yard with his father, then a high school soccer coach, and his sister, who was eventually recruited by Harvard University to play soccer in Cambridge.
His interest in coaching the game began when his daughter started playing at age four and has now reached the 20-year mark.
“I started going to different seminars and courses to try to get my licenses up and surrounding myself with good quality people,” McCleary said. “Although my playing background is not terribly impressive or strong, it’s more what I learned from watching a lot of good people around me.”
For two years, McCleary coached the Hancock Strikers in Quincy, a primarily female-based club. A few months ago, the Strikers merged with the male-based Eastern Mass club in Milton. Eastern Mass is a club that was “around for 15 years,” McCleary said. The idea for the merger, he says, came from his wife, Neponset native Tina (Bailey) McLeary, who had worked with Mike Madden, the coach for Eastern. Tina urged the two men to meet and discuss a partnership.
“Well we did, and things have taken off ever since,” McLeary added. “Looks like we sill have about 15 teams this year with close to 300 participants when you include our youth academy program.
“It’s very competitive out there. They dwindled down a little bit and they lost the girls’ side of their program so, by pooling resources, we can make it work together,” he said.
Then, two months ago, the two clubs merged with the Boston Victory Soccer Club, a semi-professional team, to became the Boston Victory Soccer Academy. McCleary now hopes to have boys’ and girls’ teams in every age category from age 2 to 18 in a “full-service” club with a “deeper coaching group.”
“There are clubs that are too big,” said McCleary, “and you don’t want to be too small, so we figured together we could be that ‘just right’ size. We still want to keep this sort of family-oriented and make it all about developing the kids, and not too commercial.”
McCleary coaches the Youth Academy soccer players who are nine years old and younger. He also uses his background in finance to help organize the club, describing his job as being sort of a “catch-all” person.
“To play club soccer, it creates sort of a family environment where you’re a part of a team, you’re a part of a culture, the people are dedicated,” said McCleary said. “A lot of times in youth sports, the dedication isn’t always there.”
The price of club membership is about half that of other soccer clubs, McCleary said, and it includes fees for uniforms, playing in the league, and the rental of gym and field time.
The club has held tryouts for its premier teams (ages 10 to 18) that end today. McCleary said the club will accept 200 to 250 kids from a turnout of applicants that exceeds 300. He is hoping that many city kids, especially from his hometown Dorchester, will come out and get involved with the club. The club is working with sponsorships to bring down the costs for city kids and provide scholarships for players who may not be able to pay.
“I know Dorchester is traditionally more of a hockey town,” he said. “I’d like to make it a soccer town.”